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Deporting the Sacred: The Circulation of Abakua Visual and Material Worlds across the Late Spanish Empire (1874-1898)

May 26 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

In Caribbeanist and Latin Americanist scholarship, Africa represents a site of origin for people and cultures trafficked to the Americas. My dissertation complicates this story. I explore their movement in the opposite direction—from Cuba to Africa and Europe. This novel avenue of inquiry emerges by examining the trajectories of ritual objects belonging to the Abakuá, an all-male Cuban secret society with roots in West Africa. This talk addresses the two “deportations” that lay at the heart of my dissertation. Firstly, colonial officials seized and dispatched Abakuá objects to elite museums and private collections in Spain. Secondly, the administration deported Abakuá members to prisons and penal colonies in Spain and Spanish colonies in northern and central Africa. The Abakuá survived this reverse Atlantic passage, reorganized, and crafted new ritual objects. This talk expands upon the questions that animate my dissertation research, which is in its early stages: How did a variety of historical actors—from government ministers to fugitive slaves—mobilize Abakuá ritual objects to contest, mediate, and affirm Spanish imperial policy? How did the wide appeal of these spiritual objects reveal the intentions and the limits of Spanish imperial practice? And finally, how can considering the agency of the objects themselves in self-fashioning and community building shift our understandings of power relations across the late nineteenth-century Spanish empire?